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Developmental biology - Brain Development|
Fatty Acids Improve Executive Function
Executive functions let people plan, organize and complete tasks.
This study's goal was to investigate the relationship between whole-blood fatty acids (FAs) and executive function in 307 children (two to six years old) from Northern Ghana. The researchers' wanted to examine the extent to which higher levels of EPA and/or DHA are associated with better cognitive performance. Dried blood spot samples were collected and analyzed for FA (fatty acid) content. Children also underwent a battery of age-appropriate cognitive function tests. Specifically, the dimensional change card sort (DCCS) task - to assess executive function.
The 'card sort task' asks that a child sort a series of cards organized in pairs based on either color or shape. Following sorting a series of eight cards based on color, the child is instructed to sort another series of eight cards based on shape. This change in sorting behavior creates an index of executive function for each child. The child must suppress their previously learned set of rules (sort by color) and make those criteria inert and adjust their behavior and attention to sort by a new set of rules (sort by shape).
The average Omega-3 Index of red blood cell essential fatty acids (EFA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) levels, was 4.6%, with a range from a low of 2.3% to a high of 11.7%. Significant differences in mean percent of total whole-blood fatty acids was observed between children who could not follow directions on the DCCS test (50%) and those who could (50%).
Children with the highest levels of omega-3s and DHA were three and four times more likely to pass the DCCS test of executive function.
One of the strengths of this study is that it chemically assessed dietary fatty acid intake (the Omega-3 Index), as opposed to a less precise method such as a questionnaire on food frequency or diet history techniques. Food frequency questionnaires are highly inaccurate at estimating circulating blood levels of fatty acids. The findings provide an "impetus for further studies into possible interventions to improve essential fatty acid status of children in developing countries."
One of the study's investigators, William Harris PhD, co-inventor of the Omega-3 Index test, said results are very encouraging for children, who are probably the most disadvantaged when it comes to omega-3 consumption.
"We were happy to see a positive correlation between omega-3 levels and better brain function, especially since an omega-3 deficiency is so easy to correct. All it requires is consuming more of the right omega-3s, especially DHA which in this case was the standout fatty acid."
Several studies demonstrate the importance of essential fatty acids (EFAs), and the long chain polyunsaturated FA docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), on cognition and brain development. The objective of this study was to investigate the relationship between whole-blood FAs and executive function in children from Northern Ghana. A total of 307, 2-to-6-year-old children attempted the dimensional change card sort (DCCS) task to assess executive function, and dried blood spot samples were collected and analyzed for FA content. Significant differences in mean % total whole-blood fatty acids were observed between children who could not follow directions on the DCCS test (49.8% of the sample) and those who could (50.2% of the sample). Positive associations with DCCS performance were observed for DHA (ß=0.25, P=.06), total n-3 (ß=0.17, P=.06) and dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA; ß=0.60, P=.06). Children with the highest levels of total n-3 and DHA were three and four times, respectively, more likely to pass at least one condition of the DCCS test of executive function than those with the lowest DHA levels. The results of this study indicate an association between n-3 FAs and high-level cognitive processes in children two to six years of age, providing impetus for further studies into possible interventions to improve EFA status of children in developing countries.
Authors: Mary Adjepong, William Yakah, William S.Harris, Reginald A.Annan, Matthew B. Pontifex, Jenifer I. Fenton.
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Executive function is a set of key mental skills that act as a command center in the brain. These skills help kids do things like plan, manage time, control emotions, work with information and get tasks done. They’re also important for staying focused and solving problems. So having executive functioning issues can impact kids both in school and in everyday life.